Driven to suc­ceed

Car­leton stu­dent golfs for dough at world cham­pi­onships

Ottawa Sun - - NEWS - KELLY EGAN To con­tact Kelly Egan, please call 613-726-5896 or email kegan@postmedia.com Twit­ter.com/kel­lye­gan­col­umn

Mitch Grass­ing can hit a golf ball as far as any­one in the world.

The Car­leton Univer­sity stu­dent proved it at the World Long Drive cham­pi­onships in Thack­erville, Okla., ear­lier this month, where he fin­ished sec­ond among 96 com­peti­tors, pock­et­ing $50,000 US.

Though he lost in the fi­nal, no one hit the ball fur­ther than his 437-yard blast in the semis. For the sake of ref­er­ence, this is three yards shy of a quar­ter­mile or, in golf terms, ab­so­lute in­san­ity. He hits the ball so far he can barely use his driver at a typ­i­cal golf course.

I play a lit­tle golf — my chest puffs out if I hit one 200 yards — and can at­test to the mur­der­ous amount of power the man pos­sesses. Imag­ine that the lead­ing driver on the PGA tour, Rory McIl­roy, is av­er­ag­ing 316 yards off the tee.

One day this week, Grass­ing, 22, walked into a cof­fee shop on Welling­ton Street wearing black shorts, a Call­away cap and flip-flops — a 265-pound man walk­ing softly but car­ry­ing a big schtick.

“Mak­ing a birdie is great on a golf course,” says Grass­ing, “but I’ve never felt any­thing like smash­ing a ball that fast and see­ing it go­ing that far.”

(It is one of those ir­ra­tional truths in golf that many play­ers would rather hit it long than score well — the rea­son why PGA tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials are all about driv­ers, not put­ters.)

Grass­ing, in his fifth year of in­ter­na­tional busi­ness stud­ies, thinks he can get even bet­ter. This was the first year he took long-drive com­pe­ti­tions se­ri­ously, win­ning a to­tal of $71,000 US at seven events.

“There’s al­ways more,” says Grass­ing, who has a ted­dy­bear look about him, if stuffed an­i­mals were six-foot three. “Un­til (the shaft) breaks, there’s al­ways more you can do.”

As a kid grow­ing up in Kitch­ener, he was al­ways a long hit­ter, strik­ing 300- or 330-yard drives when he was a teenager play­ing with his fa­ther, Brad, a dry­wall con­trac­tor. In 2014, his coach at the Whis­tle Bear course in Cam­bridge, Ont., Mark Wil­son, thought he had po­ten­tial for long-drive com­pe­ti­tions be­cause of his ter­rific swing speed.

(A good am­a­teur golfer might peak at 90 miles an hour, a PGA pro at 120. Grass­ing’s club head was clocked at 157 at the world cham­pi­onships.)

So they went to work and, that year, at age 19, he won an On­tario cham­pi­onship with a 381-yard drive, later com­pet­ing in the worlds.

Tech­nique and power are the keys. When he grad­u­ated from high school, Grass­ing said he weighed 175 pounds. Ar­riv­ing at Car­leton, he hit the weight room and be­gan adding mus­cle. And how, even­tu­ally get­ting into power lift­ing: bench presses of 350 pounds, 500-pound squats, dead­lifts in ex­cess of 600.

He fig­ures his hockey days and a prop­erly-built golf swing have helped pro­pel him into the elite ranks.

A slow mo­tion shot of Grass­ing’s swing is a thing to be­hold. First of all, he takes the club back about as far as is hu­manly pos­si­ble, in the tra­di­tion of a John Daly, so that he is fully coiled, but his left arm is still straight. Then comes the down­swing, led by the legs and hips.

“I take my arms out of it,” he says. “I take them to the top and let them sit there.”

He ap­pears to squat as his weight be­gins to shift from one leg to the other, bring­ing the club down in a tremen­dous whoosh that, lit­er­ally, lifts him off the ground at im­pact.

“To me, it doesn’t feel like I’m swing­ing that fast. It’s all about ef­fi­ciency, how you use your body.”

As for equip­ment, he uses a longer shaft than most (48 inches) and a club­face loft of only three de­grees, whereas 10 might be typ­i­cal for an av­er­age player. The shaft is also about four times as stiff as a duf­fer might use.

“It’s a big mis­con­cep­tion that we use souped-up equip­ment that’s to­tally il­le­gal. Ev­ery­thing about the driver is le­gal.”

This year has con­vinced Grass­ing that he can make a liv­ing at long driv­ing — a sport that has turned some ath­letes into mi­nor celebri­ties at home and now has size­able cor­po­rate back­ing like The Golf Chan­nel, which tele­cast the fi­nals live.

“As soon as you win one of those world ti­tles, it’s a lifechanger.”

Oddly enough, Grass­ing says he doesn’t play many rounds of golf, where he of­ten re­lies on a 270-yard four or five iron off the tee on the way to shoot­ing in the high 70s. Nor has he lost his sense of hu­mour. When asked about the weak­nesses in his game, he replied: “Ev­ery­thing af­ter the tee shot.”

He’s off to the world team cham­pi­onships in Mex­ico in Novem­ber, where he will drive for show, drive for dough.

WAYNE CUD­DING­TON PHOTOS

Mitch Grass­ing, 22, a Car­leton Univer­sity busi­ness stu­dent, came sec­ond in the World Long Drive cham­pi­onship in Ok­la­homa ear­lier this month.

Mitch Grass­ing tees one up at the Cham­plain Golf Course in Gatineau.

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